Try to think of it not as the emerging Toronto Blue Jays signing a drug cheat, but the emerging Toronto Blue Jays signing a man who played for two championship teams and wasn't kicked off of one of them.
Three months after getting popped by baseball's drug testing program, outfielder Melky Cabrera begins his redemption tour in Toronto by way of a two-year, $16 million contract. The agreement was first reported by ESPNDeportes.com, so apparently Cabrera still trusts some websites.
The fact is, the deal makes a ton of sense for the franchise and the player. They've dropped the gloves in Toronto, where the Blue Jays this week acquired Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck in a 12-player trade with the Miami Marlins.
Now they take a chance on Cabrera, who might very well have been National League MVP had the man with the plastic cup not showed up one unfortunate summer afternoon. They can't have the slightest notion whether they've just bought the Cabrera who did very little for the Atlanta Braves in 2010, the Cabrera who lost some weight and added some game for the Kansas City Royals in 2011 or the Cabrera who was among the best players in the league for the San Francisco Giants in 2012.
So, it appears, the Blue Jays will hold open left field, pay him for something in between and hope those unreasonable levels of testosterone weren't the explanation for the upward trend. He is just 28 years old, certainly has gotten into better shape, and presumably could be a late bloomer. Cabrera went from a guy who, by WAR, cost the Braves a half-win in '10 to a guy who accounted for five wins in 113 games for the Giants in '12, which seems like a big jump, but OK. Two years ago, his batting average on balls in play was .288 (.233 from right side) and this year it was .379 (.410 from the right side), but OK. People improve. Players in their primes improve.
Cabrera was going to get a job in the major leagues. He served his 50 and then some. Conventional wisdom had him accepting a one-year contract, perhaps rich in incentives, rehabilitating his image and game, then starting fresh next winter. Obviously, the big payday that otherwise would have come from his breakthrough walk year wasn't coming. This contract, again, seems somewhere in between. That is, the Blue Jays gamble the years and money and believe Cabrera wasn't totally made of synthetic testosterone. And Cabrera gambles that a repeat of 2012 wouldn't have allowed him to recoup the money and security he lost due to the positive drug test.
That seems fair.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays continue to charge into the offseason like a wounded large-market team, which they are, but only days ago starting acting like it. By the looks of things, their payroll will blow past $100 million, and they'll likely need another starting pitcher. They've still got Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in the middle of the lineup, will have Reyes and Brett Lawrie at the top, and have the depth at least to the seven spot.
They do have to figure out where Cabrera fits, of course. But, then, first they have to figure out what Cabrera is.
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